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[Susan notes: Here you get a full range of views on reforming teachers as the solution to reforming schools. I don't fully agree with any of them, mainly because I see family income as the key factor in school reform.]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

Re "Happy Talk on School Reform" (editorial, Oct. 22):

It should be no surprise that the lack of a system of effective professional education leaves our country's teachers - and thus, their students - bereft in the wake of ambitious reform efforts. Few other professions have as little support for the specialized training needed for their work.

Quality education is central to the future of our society; teaching is thus one of our most crucial professions. A rigorous and professional system of initial and continuing education of teachers is essential.

Teachers deserve nothing less than first-rate training for the complex work that we ask of them. Without this, and the major investment it will demand, dreams of school reform will remain nothing more than vain hopes.

Deborah Loewenberg Ball

Ann Arbor, Mich., Oct. 23, 2005

The writer is interim dean and a professor in the School of Education, University of Michigan.

To the Editor:

Relying on the establishment of a cadre of highly qualified teachers to narrow the persistent academic achievement gap among racial and ethnic groups in this country is a comforting delusion.

It is based on the false assumption that teachers are miracle workers who can overcome the large deficits some students bring to class through no fault of their own.

The reality is that culture plays a far greater role in student performance than reformers admit. Values and attitudes about the importance of education are inculcated in children at an early age.

Although poverty is a powerful factor in scholastic outcomes, it is an insufficient explanation. It will take an unprecedented effort between schools and communities to create in young people what they never received at home.

Even with the best intentions, strategies aimed at exposing self-defeating behaviors will often be resented. Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, Oct. 22, 2005

The writer taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

To the Editor:

The debate about improving American students' test scores is missing one of the most important factors: a secure home life.

Students who enter first grade without ever having been read to, or who lack the security provided by life's basic necessities, cannot be expected to perform to the same standards as middle-class students solely because their teacher has attended workshops and has a master's degree.

Christine Donlan

York, England, Oct. 23, 2005

To the Editor:

Your call for "deeper systemic change" in public education is heartening. But important as "teacher quality" is, it cannot be attained without dealing with the counterproductive roles, relationships and mind-sets of the present system.

Many highly qualified people will not even consider teaching in public school systems, particularly in the cities, because of their unprofessional and bureaucratic cultures.

Most of the proposals for improving "teacher quality" don't deal with these problems.

Deep system change is difficult, but it is not impossible.

Redesigning our obsolete, hundred-year-old public education system will take a broad bipartisan commitment. And the focus will have to be not only on schools but also on their relationship with many other institutions and influences that determine educational failure and success. David Seeley

Staten Island, Oct. 23, 2005

The writer is a professor of education at the CUNY Graduate Center.

To the Editor:

Perhaps we are looking in the wrong place for answers.

You cite a "deeply inadequate teacher corps" as a reason for dismal math and reading scores. Maybe so; maybe not.

In my experience as a teacher and a school lawyer, I believe that most teachers are good enough to get the job done. But they work in a scattered system; their days are full of interruptions and extraneous requirements. Teaching and learning time is significantly affected.

Since your suggestion to change teaching training and qualifications will take a very long time to achieve, why not look in the obvious place first: let teachers teach.

Remove the burdens of regulation and bureaucratic nonsense. Then let's see what our teachers and students can do!

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

Boston, Oct. 22, 2005

multiple authors

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